Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Question of Natural Religion and Syncretism Part I

The idea of syncretism is often derided as some fuzzy New Age concept that blurs the lines between and among authentic religions. Hence those syncretic systems are inauthentic. When I first began my meticulous study of the political theology of the American Founding and there encountered its driving creed ("Christian-Deism," "unitarianism," "theistic rationalism," pick your favorite term) which itself is a hybrid among Protestant Christianity, Deism, and natural religion, one observation coming from the orthodox perspective was that such a creed is too syncretic to be considered authentic Christianity.

So, for instance, America's key Founders, following natural religion, held all religious men of all of the worlds' religions worshipped the same God, wherein they argue over the details. Indeed, the knowledge that such a God exists without any external written revelation is available to all men through the use of reason and the senses.

As it were, it's not just Jews, Christians and Muslims who worship this same One True God, but so too do unconverted Native Americans (they call Him "The Great Spirit") and Hindus (as the Founders would say "Hindoos"), just about everyone.

Over the years, I have presented these findings to folks who read it with a very skeptical eye. They don't like how America's "Christian" and "Judeo-Christian" contributions have been, as they see it, sandblasted from the public square. So they seek to reauthenticate for traditional Christianity what is presented as a novel creation of the Enlightenment period.

So I have been told the idea of natural religion, (again, the notion that all men, through the use of reason alone can know God exists and thus worship the same God while differing over the details) has been and is believed in by bona fide historic orthodox Christians. And though they don't all believe it, such is something consistent with the traditional practice of the faith.

America's Founders certainly had an ecumenical impulse that the natural law-natural religion satisfied. On the other hand, there is and always has been an anti-ecumenical impulse. The idea that we've got the details all right and you've got it all wrong. Hence your god is/gods are false. America's Founders, for the most part, rejected such.

(The concept of puritanism or separating and purifying the true practice of the faith from the false represents such anti-ecumenism. And this doesn't always produce bad results. Roger Williams' good results on religious liberty were significantly driven by such.)

Even for Young Earth Creationist believing fundamentalists, natural religion might provide some kind of rational explanation, given their premises: If God created Adam and Eve and all humanity is so derived, and given most history, especially from very early on, is transmitted orally, it makes sense that those who best kept the faith would have the clearest details of what's true, but that everyone still has some key details right, even if distorted, because we all come from the same place.

If all world religions worship the same God, then how do we deal with the issue of polytheism v. monotheism? First, it's not clear that "the monotheistic religions" are as monotheistic as they present themselves. Just as it's not clear that the polytheistic religions are as polytheistic as they have been purported to be.

The Bible doesn't simply speak of the One God in the heavenly realm and the many of humanity. Rather, from the beginning it seems there exists a divine heavenly family. Mormons, for instance, have been characterized as polytheistic. To which they accurately reply no, they are henotheistic. Indeed, it's debatable whether the Bible teaches monotheism or henotheism.

Small o orthodox Christianity teaches the existence of One God who exists in Three Eternally Distinct Persons. This gets them a charge of polytheism from, among others, Muslims.

It's the idea of the More Than One deriving, in some mysterious way, from The One. Again, it's not some fuzzy New Age concept, but an issue that has long perplexed metaphysicians and philosophers.

So Hinduism has countless gods (perhaps the most) in its pantheon. But Hinduism can and certain forms do argue the religion is actually monotheistic in that all of the different gods are manifestations of the One True God. Hindus also have a Trinity that parallels the Christian One: It's Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Now, someone committed to an anti-ecumenical understanding of orthodox Christianity, might argue such Trinity has nothing to do with the Christian Trinity.

But that's not what John Adams thought. As he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813:
Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
Now, the militant unitarian John Adams devoutly believed in the One True God of the Universe. But he bitterly rejected the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  The overall context of his letter was to both 1. endorse the natural religion notion that all of the world religions worship the same God, even as they differ over the details, and 2. articulate the genealogy of the Christian Trinity which he rejected as false. Enlightenment rationalists who rejected the Trinity tended to blame Plato for the "fabrication" of the doctrine. But Adams in this letter traces it to Pythagoras.

Adams believed both the Hindu and the Christian understandings of the Trinity have the same origin. This too could be understood as a function of natural religion, that all world religions in their essence teach more or less the same thing, ascertainable by reason. But that using their reason, dicker on the exact details.

Indeed, the orthodox Christian American Founder Elias Boudinot recognized the similarity between the Christian and Hindu doctrines of the Trinity and likewise attempted to trace the genealogy of the doctrine. But unlike Adams, Boudinot accepted the Trinity as part of Christian doctrine. So, as it were, the Hindus must have got it from the Hebrews. As per the natural religion explanation, all world religions believe in the same essential truth, discernible from reason and the senses, even if the different groups distort details.

But still, what J. Adams and E. Boudinot would both agree with is that orthodox Christianity and Hinduism share the notion that from the One True God manifests Three. The Hindu notion is that there is One that splits into Three (and then perhaps more). The orthodox Christian notion is that from One, in some mysterious way, Three Exist.

Throckmorton: "No, David Barton, I Did Not Recruit Jay Richards"

Check it out here. A taste:
In fact, Richards wrote to Michael Coulter and me on May 14, 2012 via the Getting Jefferson Right Facebook page. He thanked us for the book and offered to contact Christian journalists on our behalf. Then, on May 23, Richards wrote to say that he had spoken to two of Barton’s supporters about the historical problems in Barton’s book (see below for the identity of one of them which was revealed by Barton). The next day, Richards alerted me that he had been “commissioned” (it was unclear who did the commissioning, but it wasn’t me) to find six Christian historians to read Barton’s book, our book, and Barton’s DVD lecture America’s Godly Heritage. Richards then approached six scholars who then agreed to provide feedback. Richards did not tell me the identity of the scholars and I still don’t know all of them. The number providing some level of feedback eventually grew to ten.

According to Richards, Barton was also going to be informed that this process was happening.

Barton’s attempt to make me the one pulling all the strings is false and I think he knows it. I say this because on his Wallbuilders’ website, he tells the story differently. About one of the scholars recruited by Richards — The Masters’ College history professor Gregg Frazer — Barton says (see footnote 2):


Fea: "To Be Faithful to Jesus or Secular Paganism?"

From John Fea here. A taste:
In case you have not heard, "secular pagans" are rewriting American history and having "difficulty embracing the facts of history."

I am apparently one of these secular pagans.

In the latest example of the Christian Right's failure to fully grasp the complexity of the American founding, David Lane of the American Renewal Project has chosen to criticize me at the website of the Christian magazine Charisma.  

I have written about Lane before.  I am quoted in a recent Reuters piece about Lane and his attempt to get evangelical ministers to run for political office.  I also wrote a blog post in the wake of that article.  Yet Lane does not want to address those articles.  Instead, he has chosen to focus on a recent interview I did with National Public Radio that appeared over Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tillman: "Miscellaneous Americana for the New Year"

Check this post out from Seth Barrett Tillman here. I find I can always learn something new from reading every new post I see from Professor Tillman. A taste:
It is all too easy to speak of the American colonies as settled by Englishmen. But not all who came to the New World, of those who owed allegiance to the Crown, came from England. Some were Manx. A few came from the Channel Islands, where the Queen is still styled Duke (not Duchess) of Normandy! A good many were Welsh, Scottish, and Irish, particularly from Ulster. It is even more difficult to remember that settlers from these different places brought with them different parliamentary and legal traditions, and also different usage in regard to spoken and written English. See, e.g., Nora Rotter Tillman; Seth Barrett Tillman, A Fragment on Shall and May, 50 American Journal of Legal History 453 (2010); see also, e.g., James E. Pfander & Daniel D. Birk, Article III and the Scottish Enlightenment, 124 Harvard Law Review 1613 (2011) [].

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Unitarian Christmas

It's a tradition of mine to wish you such. For someone else making the same point, see here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

M. Andrew Holowchak, Ph.D.: "Did Jefferson Believe in the Afterlife?"

Check it out here. His conclusion:
At day’s end, it is likely that Jefferson, given his purchase of materialism, never really took seriously belief in an afterlife—at least, not late in life.
Here is the issue. Jefferson, following Locke (and I think Priestley) was a materialist who didn't believe in the existence of an "immaterial soul." If a soul/afterlife exists, it somehow has to be connected to matter. Like, for instance, a resurrected body. The author notes that most historians hold Jefferson believed in a warm personal afterlife. Putting it all together, we'd have to say Jefferson believed in something like the resurrection of the body. Even today Mormons (who lifted a lot of these ideas from America's Founders) and freethinking, brilliant but orthodox Anglican NT Wright believe in a similar kind of materialism. Here is a smoking gun proof quote to William Canby, September 18, 1813:
I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. That on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristides and Catos, the Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Baptists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. ...
In short all good people, even if they aren't Christians like Aristides and Cato get into Heaven. And orthodoxy doesn't matter. Even if you are orthodox (Presbyterians and Baptists) you can get into Heaven in spite of your orthodoxy, which Jefferson rails against later on in this letter. But I'm sure Dr. Holowchak would write this off as persiflage.

Texas Gov. Gets History Wrong in Opposing a Monument

You can check out the display in the Patheos article. I don't find it offensive at all. But then again, I like satire, parody, iconoclasm, South Park among other things.

But the Governor claims "it promotes ignorance and falsehood" to suggest G. Washington, B. Franklin, and T. Jefferson "would worship" the Bill of Rights over "Jesus." I don't suggest that these men worshipped the Bill of the Rights. But they worshipped God, not Jesus. Jefferson was a militant unitarian in his rejection of Jesus' divinity. Franklin was gentler in the way he dealt with the Trinity. But he is on record supporting the unitarian project and claiming to "have doubts" as to Jesus' divinity (though Franklin never doubted Providence). And George Washington also gives no evidence of being a Jesus worshipper as opposed to a Providence worshipper.

We could say, well the Governor goofed with one word. He should have just said "God" and not "Jesus."

But because of the lack of real evidence for George Washington being a Jesus worshipper, the Governor cited a long passage from the Daily Sacrifice (which uses orthodox Trinitarian language), a spurious document.

This is a real example on how Christian Nationalist revisionist history harms.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Do they worship the same God with an as it pertains to America's Founding Political Theology?

Let us begin by quoting the militant unitarian John Adams, 2nd President of the United States and one of America's key Founders:
"It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world."

-- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.
Check out John Fea's post on the controversy. Bottom line, Wheaton, an evangelical Christian college, is formally disciplining a professor for suggesting they do. Check out Francis Beckwith's outstanding post which Fea links to. And also the Washington Post article by Miroslav Volf.

My beef with Wheaton isn't the notion that Christians and Muslims worship different gods; I think evangelicals or other kinds of Christians are entitled in good faith to hold that position. But as Volf, Beckwith and others demonstrate, one could also be a devout orthodox Christian and believe they do worship the same God, the God of Abraham.

Wheaton should respect that intellectual diversity. That's my issue with them. The "key Founders" like John Adams were on the side of believing Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God. Hence the above quotation by John Adams.

There is one issue I have with some of the orthodox Christians who believe Christians and Muslims worship different gods that gets discussed in the linked articles. I don't like specially plead hypocritical arguments and assertions and this is one of them: That Jews and Christians worship the same God, Muslims a different one.

Almost all of the arguments that can be made on behalf of the case that Christians and Muslims worship different gods can also be used to prove Christians and Jews worship different gods.

For instance, orthodox Christians worship a Triune God, Muslims a unitary One. Jews worship a unitary God as well. The Muslim's God doesn't have an only begotten Son (Jesus). Well Jews reject Jesus as God's only begotten Son and that He is Messiah.

They either all worship the same God or different gods. You can't have it both ways. Dr. Gregg Frazer, by the way, is consistent here. He not only believes they all worship different gods, but that "Christians" who reject the Trinity worship a different God as well.

Likewise one of the articles intimates, wrongly in my opinion, that orthodox Christians don't dare suggest that Jews and Christians worship different gods. I think plenty still do. And in the past, when Antisemitism was more acceptable, I'm sure many notable theologians endorsed the notion that since rejecting Jesus as Messiah, Jews no longer worship the same God Christians do. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Luther was no fundie

In the comments section Tom Van Dyke points to Martin Luther's position on the Book of Revelation. At least it was a position he held at one point in his life while he was pondering which books of the canon were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Luther wrote:
Preface to the Revelation of St. John (1522) 7

About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment. I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and it makes me consider it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic.

First and foremost, the apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear and plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak clearly of Christ and his deeds, without images and visions. Moreover there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so exclusively with visions and images. For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; 8 I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

Moreover he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly — indeed, more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will take away from him, etc. Again, they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. This is just the same as if we did not have the book at all. And there are many far better books available for us to keep.

Many of the fathers also rejected this book a long time ago; 9 although St. Jerome, to be sure, refers to it in exalted terms and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words. Still, Jerome cannot prove this at all, and his praise at numerous places is too generous.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it. But to teach Christ, this is the thing which an apostle is bound above all else to do; as Christ says in Acts 1, “You shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which present Christ to me clearly and purely.
The bold face is mine.  

A few thoughts. First, this sounds Quakerish to me. Luther is the founder of Protestantism and Quakerism is a form of Protestantism. Quakerism is I would describe Spirit trumps Letter (and there's textual support in the canon for that). You could say Spirit trumps written Revelation. But that would be not precise enough.

Perhaps Spirit trumps the written word.

Or rather the Spirit speaking to the individual, Priest that she is, in good conscience determines which books are inspired and how to understand them. As opposed to some external collective authority determining the matter.

In common discourse we hear the term "the Bible" bandied about. And that's fine. I don't mean to deconstruct the notion of  a canon of books that contains, for those who so believe, revelation in a God speaking to man sense.

However, once one studies the history of the canon -- and I admit there are those who know more about it than I do; I haven't yet read but am familiar with the cliff notes argument of Jaroslav Pelikan's "Whose Bible Is It?: A Short History of the Scriptures" -- it's hard to take seriously the notion of "the Bible" as "a book" in which you simply look something up. Rather it's a collection of books -- a canon -- whose contents are disputed; in particular which books belong are disputed.  (To say nothing of the interpretation thereof.)

Reformed Protestants, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox all have different exact books. And there are two incompatible quick narratives I have heard from the Protestants v. Roman Catholics.

On the one hand Position 1 of evangelical or fundamentalist oriented Protestants seems to argue that the Bible is 66 books and only 66 books, and always has been. Roman Catholics added additional books to the canon in Trent.

On the other Position 2 of the Roman Catholics is that the Bible actually contains and always has since the early Church guided by the Spirit selected them, 73 books until Luther removed seven of them. (And he would have removed more, like the Book of Revelation, until his friends stop him. That part doesn't seem to be part of the "quick narrative," but is an interesting nuance that isn't too well known.)

Then we got the King James Bible, with its bowdlerized 66.  And Trent was needed to formalize the Roman Catholic position against Luther's/the Protestants' novel act.

The truth is probably somewhere in between the positions, but I have concluded closer to position 2. In fact, from the very start when the early Church began to compile a "canon" of books, the exact contents -- which books belonged -- were disputed and different regions had different exact books.

Belief in the divine inspiration of the deuterocanonicals was hardly novel to Trent. Early Church Fathers (who among themselves differed on which exact books they believed were inspired) believed in them. And the Eastern Orthodox believe in those books and add a few others that Roman Catholics don't consider part of their canon. And the different capital O Orthodox Churches themselves differ on the exact books depending on region.

The Eastern Orthodox split with Rome in 1054 way before Trent.

I'm not interested in the various reasons Protestants have for the King James Bibles that the canon is these 66 and no others. Rather I'm looking for evidence that their position is not novel to the reformation.

Some evangelical-fundamentalist types take it as a matter of faith that once the last book of the 66 was written, "true Christians" always just knew it was these 66 and no more, no less. I haven't been able to find any historical evidence to support such position.

On a personal note, I don't deride the Book of Revelation like Jefferson does; my position is probably closer to Luther's. I see the book as interesting poetry; but if someone tries to proof text it at me as containing divinely inspired doctrine, I would simply write it off.

(My exact religious views are complicated. I'm open to certain religious truths, but not others. And my religious views can change from day to day. Ultimately, I try to operate "in good conscience.") 

Clearly I'm no fundie. But then again, neither was Luther.

Notable Debate on Substantive Due Process

Over a decade ago, I became involved as one of the more minor players in the blogsphere in a debate over unenumerated rights. The biggest player was of course Randy Barnett. And my blogfather Timothy Sandefur was involved in the debate then. Over the course of the decade, Sandefur has become more of a heavy hitter in the discourse.

A timely similar debate has arisen over the the doctrine of "substantive due process," something part of the unenumerated rights discourse. Constitutional issues that deal with the "rights of man" are like a game of whack a mole. If you don't find them under the privileges or immunities clause, they will pop up out of the due process clause and elsewhere. Arguably, they spring out of the Declaration of Independence.

When I noted above that Sandefur is more of a "heavy hitter" it's because of things like the (to my mind) pleasantly surprising drift of the venerable George Will towards libertarianism and Sandefur's influence on Will in this regard. Check out Will's column here.

So here is Timothy Sandefur v. Matthew Franck. Here is a piece by attacking Franck's position. Below I excerpt from Franck's piece because, discussing Will's article, it contains links to a debate he had with Hadley Arkes on the Declaration of Independence and its justiciability under America's system of constitutional law.

A taste:
... Transforming due process into an all-purpose clause for overturning laws that fail to live up to the moral vision of judges was the work of Dred Scott, and continued in Lochner v. New York, Roe v. Wade, and—most recently—Obergefell v. Hodges. Conservatives and constitutional originalists should have no truck with this ahistorical, anti-textual jurisprudence, which may occasionally achieve desirable results for political justice but will always traduce the proper limits of judicial power. (Interested readers can follow a recent exchange I had with Professor Hadley Arkes, who expatiates on Will’s view more thoroughly, through several installments: Arkes1, Franck1, Arkes2, Franck2, Arkes3, Franck3.)

Invoking the Declaration of Independence does not help to make the case for judicial adventurism in this field. ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Throckmorton v. Barton, the current round, and some of my thoughts

Unfortunately for them, WorldNetDaily is publishing the newest edition to David Barton's much criticized "The Jefferson Lies." Warren Throckmorton updates us here. A taste:
The recycled spin continues on the WND book description. The original promotional material referred to Barton’s critics as “ a few dedicated liberal individuals and academics.” Now the WND book description calls usbloggers and a handful of non-historian academics.”

This effort to obscure the response of historians, Christian and otherwise, to Barton’s work is a farce. The Jefferson Lies was voted “least credible history book in print’ by readers of the History News Network. Dozens of Christian historians wrote both Family Research Council and Focus on the Family in 2013 urging them to remove Barton’s work from their web pages. If WND editors cared about accuracy, they could just read their own website. In the article WND published yesterday, there is a reference by Barton to his Christian historian critics.
My own personal observation is the biggest bone of contention in Barton's book is that Jefferson was some kind of traditional or orthodox Christian before 1813. There is no evidence for this. There is evidence that Jefferson was much chattier about his heterodoxy from 1813 onwards.

Jefferson after 1800 was influenced by Joseph Priestley's Socinian Unitarian Christianity.  But there's not a shred of evidence that Priestley took Jefferson away from orthodox or traditional Christianity. Rather, it's just as likely Priestley took Jefferson away from a less traditional Deism and made him feel more comfortable with a Christian identity.

I'll offer a bit in support of the speculation. Jefferson was influenced by Bolingbroke before Priestley. Even Bolingbroke might not have been quite as "strictly deistic" as one might think. But he was arguably more heterodox than Priestley.

For instance, even though Joseph Priestley believed that original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and plenary inspiration of scripture were "corruptions of Christianity," he believed in the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation. Jefferson, on the other hand, in 1825 said of the Book:
[I]t is between 50. and 60. years since I read it, & I then considered it as merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
Bolingbroke had very similar views on the Book of Revelation. Plus 50 years before 1825 is 1775. He's admitting in this letter he was heterodox enough to consider one of the books of the canon the ravings of a maniac.

Juan Cole: "Trump vs. the Founding Fathers on Muslims Coming to US"

Check it out here. A taste:
Ben Franklin, the founding father of many important institutions in Philadelphia, a key diplomat and a framer of the US Constitution, wrote in his Autobiography concerning a non-denominational place of public preaching he helped found “so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” ...
Hat tip: John Fea.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

George H. Smith: "John Locke: In Search of the Radical Locke"

Check it out here. A taste:
[B]ut for now I wish to discuss the theory, accepted by virtually every modern Lockean scholar, that most of the Second Treatise was written years before the Glorious Revolution.

Early commentators, misled by Locke’s preface, assumed that Locke wrote the Second Treatise after William’s successful invasion of England. In 1960, Peter Laslett published his definitive edition of the Two Treatises, and his lengthy, detailed Introduction to the text changed the course of Lockean scholarship.

Laslett, after a meticulous examination of both textual and external evidence, concluded that most of the Two Treatises was written between 1679 and 1681 (around 18 years before the Glorious Revolution) during a political struggle known as the Exclusion Crisis. This was an unsuccessful parliamentary effort by Whigs, led by Lord Shaftesbury (Locke’s patron and, in some respects, his mentor) to prevent the Catholic Duke of York (brother of Charles II and later James II) and other Catholics from succeeding to the throne of England. (It should be understood that Catholicism in Locke’s day was commonly associated with the absolutist policies of Louis XIV.) As originally written, according to Laslett, the “Two Treatises in fact turns out to be a demand for a revolution to be brought about, not a rationalization of a revolution in need of defense.” Similarly, Maurice Cranston, in John Locke: A Biography (1957), drawing upon Laslett’s research before publication, concluded: “The Two Treatises of Government was not something written after the event to “justify” a revolution, but something written before the event to promote a revolution.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fea: "Have You Heard About the American Renewal Project?"

Check it out here. A taste:
I recently talked to Reuters journalist Michelle Conlin about David Lane and the American Renewal Project.  You can read her finished piece here.

The American Renewal Project is a network of 100,000 ministers and pastors (as far as I can tell they are mostly white, conservative evangelical, middle-aged men) who are trying to get 1000 pastors to run for office in 2016.

One look at the American Renewal Project website reveals that this is yet another wing of the Christian nationalist movement.  There are stories about revolutionary-era clergy who supported the American Revolution,  defenses of the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and discussions of pastors running for political office to "save the soul" of America.  Lane is a Christian Right activist who believes that we need to "wage war to restore a Christian America."  His use of history comes straight out of the David Barton playbook.  In fact, Barton is a supporter of this movement.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Washington Post: "The fascinating history of how Jefferson and other Founding Fathers defended Muslim rights"

Check it out here. A taste:
Indeed, it wasn't just Jefferson and Madison who were discussing the bounds of religious freedom in the crucial Virginia debate, said historian John Ragosta, author of numerous books on Jefferson and religious freedom.

"Baptists and Presbyterians were really demanding religious freedom in the 18th century because they were dissenters from the established church," Ragosta said. "And they were talking about Muslims and ‘infidels’ and Jews."

Evangelicals had been subjected to religious persecution not long before. Prior to the American Revolution, more than half of Virginia's Baptist ministers were jailed for preaching, Ragosta said. "These people knew what they were talking about."

Opponents of Jefferson's proposal wrote letters to the Virginia Gazette, arguing that it would allow atheists, Muslims and Jews to hold office — to which evangelicals responded, “that’s right,” Ragosta said.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

John Fea at the AHA

Even if he doesn't attend, he's there. Check it out here. A taste:
As I was jotting down possible sessions I might want to attend I came across AHA Session 3 on Thursday afternoon: "Are the Culture Wars History? New Comments on an Old Concept."  I was attracted by the high-powered panel of historians--Andrew Hartman, Adam Laats, Natalia Petrzeal, Stephen Prothero, and Leo Ribuffo.  I marked it down as a must-attend panel. 

Then I read the "Session Abstract."  Here it is:
In 2012, Messiah College history professor John Fea set Glenn Beck and his followers ablaze when he claimed that Barack Obama might be “the most explicitly Christian President in America.”  Responding to the hundreds of angry comments he received, Fea wrote a follow-up post on the need for civility entitled “The Culture Wars Are Real.”  The title of Fea’s essay was old news, as Americans had been talking about the “culture wars” ever since the publication of James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book on the subject.  Yet Fea’s title also betrayed a tone of defensiveness—that maybe, for some, the culture wars weren’t and aren’t real. 
The Fea incident was a reminder of everything that historians still don’t know about one of the most familiar analytical concepts of the past twenty-five years. ...